Garrus knew it was a death sentence to freeze on a battlefield. He might've considered himself a bad turian in any number of other ways, on any number of other occasions, but he wasn't stupid, and the endless drills of his youth had honed in him the skills necessary, at the very least, to survive. He'd always been good at surviving. Hell, on more than one occasion he'd managed to do it against all odds.
But, standing on the command deck of the Valiant, staring in disbelief at the darkness that had swallowed Shepard, he froze. Completely. Utterly. Didn't matter who was shooting at you, freeze like he froze and any idiot with a gun could've taken him out without bothering to aim.
He didn't know how long he stood paralyzed and uncomprehending. Evidently whatever had caused the lights to go and the elevator to—no, Vakarian, don't go there—wasn't equipped with anything so brutally simple and effective as a bullet. Or they didn't give a damn about the immobile turian standing in their midst. Or the whole thing had been some kind of horrible accident; a mechanical failure of epically horrifying proportions.
A voice, faint and broken and female, crackled in his ear, finally breaking through the endless imaginary echo of Shepard's scream, and the voice was repeating his name.
"Shepard?" he barked, relief warring with disbelief. "Shepard? Talk to me, Shepard."
Not Shepard. Tali's desperation and his own disappointment were enough to wake him, though, and to bring him back from wherever he'd gone. Awareness of his idiocy hit him like a krogan headbutt, sudden and violent.
Dropping into a crouch, he scanned the CIC through his scope. His visor wasn't registering life signs, but then Reaper-tech abominations hardly counted as Council races, no matter what organic life they were built from. Whatever they'd been before, they weren't turian now. They weren't moving, either. Nothing was moving.
Even with the static, Tali's terror came through loud and clear.
She continued, "I can't—Shepard."
He bit down on his tongue. Hard. The pain was immediate. It was real. It was now. He tasted blood, and it made him focus. It made him step back, step away from thoughts like not again and elevator shaft and Shepard. "Tali," he replied, trying to keep his voice even, calm, in control. "Tali, you need to go get help. Shepard's in trouble. You need to get to the Normandy. You need to bring back the team. The whole team."
And then we need to blow this abomination out of the sky.
Shepard's words, but he understood the sentiment. He understood it all the way down to his bones.
The silence that followed was so absolute he felt certain they'd lost communications again. Slowly, carefully, he began edging his way around the mound of bodies toward the last place he'd seen Shepard. Every unintentional scrape of metal on metal reverberated in the silence, unbearably loud.
He didn't let himself imagine what he might do if he looked down the shaft and his visor failed to pick up life signs there, too.
She's Shepard. She's fine.
"Where?" Tali finally said. The poor reception didn't hide her emotion. Determination. Anxiety. Mostly determination. "I'll come."
"No," he snapped back, instantly, and with more force than necessary. Inhaling sharply, he forced himself to think calm, calm, calm. How many times had Shepard warned him about going off half-cocked? He had to think. He had to think. He had to think the way she'd taught him to think. And he had to remain calm. Making snap decisions in the heat of anger or fear never went well. For anyone. Least of all for him. "No, Tali, listen. Listen carefully. The ship's crawling with Reaper tech. You have to tell Admiral Hackett. The Council. It's what Shepard would have wanted—would want. Wants."
He didn't catch himself quickly enough, and the poor connection didn't do him the favor of fixing his mistake. Or hiding it.
No. She's fine. She's Shepard. She's fine.
"Did you say—keelah! Would have wanted? Where is she? Is—hurt? Garr—? Is she—?"
She's Shepard. She's fine. I'm not leaving her.
"Shepard gave you an order, Tali."
Defiant, Tali retorted, "She gave you an ord—too, Garrus. I was there!"
What he wanted was to roar his rage and fear and desperation. He wanted to shoot something. Anything. He wanted to pound his fist into the wall—the floor—someone's face. But he was a good enough turian to know a sniper alone in a hostile environment didn't give in to emotion when he had a mission to complete. Clarity. Focus. He reached desperately for the crystalline moment between breaths, where emotion disappeared and the world was no bigger than the view through his scope.
"Go," he said. "Go."
She's Shepard. She's fine. She's survived worse.
And she's died before.
The moment between breaths. This wasn't Anderson saying I thought you should hear it from me. This wasn't Omega. He crept forward a few more feet, listening to the silence, waiting for… something. Anything.
And on the other end of the comm-link, Tali breathed a broken prayer. "Garrus. Is she… Garrus. Don't. She wouldn't… she wouldn't want you to."
And damn the technology that suddenly let every word ring clear as a bell in the confines of his helmet.
"Incoming," Cortez interrupted. "We've got hostiles approaching, and no sign of the Normandy."
Tali and Garrus swore at the same time—different languages, equally harsh. "We'll be back for you, Garrus."
"And Shepard." A pause. "Garrus? Keelah se'lai."
"You too," he said, though he wasn't sure she heard it. The connection gave a high-pitched shriek then a cry like a medical machine flatlining. He tried not to imagine what that might mean as he switched channels and began trying to raise Shepard on any of the other frequencies she used. Every one was quiet.
He tried not to think the word dead, but the silence was heavy, different. Absolute. It felt like death.
Finally, without anything else happening—good or bad—he reached the lip of the elevator shaft. Nothing rose up behind him; nothing emerged from the shadows to push him over. Very carefully, he leaned out over the edge. The darkness was broken only by the light his visor cast, and the dim strips of emergency lighting lining the shaft itself.
And below, so far he couldn't merely jump, too far for his biofeedback monitors to pick anything up, he thought he caught the faintest trace of a thermal signature. Warmth. Human warmth.
He only hoped it wasn't his mind playing tricks on him.
Shepard woke choking on a scream.
She knew pain. Pain was her old companion. They had a long and troubled relationship. She might avoid it for a while, but it always found her. This? This wasn't a fistfight or a bullet or a broken rib. It was every nerve expressing its displeasure at the same time. It was fire. It was the certainty that she should be dead.
Instinct kept her from loosing the cry hovering on her lips. She didn't entirely know where she was or how she'd come to be there, but she knew pain usually came with hostiles, and any enemy worth their salt would hear a scream and come running to finish the death her current pain promised.
After several breaths as deep and steadying as her lungs would allow (at least one broken rib, she decided, maybe more), she'd wrestled the worst of the agony down, pushing it into the compartment her training had built for such things. The mission. The mission had to come first.
One thing at a time.
Slowly, methodically, she began taking stock of her situation.
Her mag-boots were still rooted to the floor of the elevator. They'd probably saved her life. Her legs were broken, though, along with that rib or two, but at least she could feel them. It meant her spine was probably still whole. Another thing she had to thank Cerberus for, she supposed. Any other body wouldn't have fared quite so well in the epic battle of woman versus elevator versus gravity.
She was pretty sure the darkness was only darkness, and not blindness. She tasted blood in her mouth, and hoped it was because she'd bitten her tongue and not because she was in the process of bleeding to death via internal injury.
Moving her arms was possible, though once she ascertained their mobility, she lay still again, unwilling to further exacerbate the problem with her ribs. When she tried to activate her omni-tool, she was met with resounding failure. No flicker of orange light appeared at her wrist.
It took a hell of a fall to render an omni-tool inoperative.
She was pretty sure it wasn't only the omni-tool, either. Her armor had to be malfunctioning; it hadn't flooded her with medi-gel, and if ever she'd required a little help in the healing department, it was now. She couldn't quite feel her cybernetics, but she knew they had to be working overtime in a desperate attempt to get her up and active.
Cerberus hadn't wanted her falling down on the job, after all.
It was something of a relief to find she still had her sense of humor, even if it was muffled and black.
Other pains—aching head, aching spine, aching shoulders—she catalogued and disregarded. She'd have to watch for the possibility—probability—of concussion, but none of the rest was life-threatening.
All in all, she was pretty sure she wasn't going to die in the next five minutes.
She could work with that.
A great shriek of metal above her gave her only a moment's warning—time enough to grab her pistol and aim, broken ribs be damned—before something dropped down from the ceiling. Enemy, her instincts said. No, Garrus, the blue visor replied. Only pure reflex turned her shot aside at the last moment, sending the bullet through the open hatch to ricochet around the elevator shaft above.
"Damn, Vakarian. A little warning?"
"I tried," he said, relief warring with strain in the tones of his voice. "Your comm's busted."
"Hell," she groaned, letting her arm fall back to the floor. "Everything's busted. But I'm alive, at least."
He crouched beside her, and though the only light in the elevator car was the faint pale blue his visor gave off, it was enough to reveal his expression.
She wished it wasn't.
She figured as bad as she felt, she must look worse. Because there was fear and there was fear. There was grief and there was grief. And then there was whatever Garrus was feeling. It had to be something intense, because he looked murderous and distressed, all mixed together with that particular brand of emotion she'd learned to recognize as his feelings for her.
He looked a little like he'd take on a Reaper with his bare hands if he thought it might help her.
"Nothing an extended vacation in the medbay can't cure," she managed, though pain and breathlessness stole something of the humor she'd intended. "Dr. Chakwas'll probably be glad to see some action. She'll finally get a chance to run all those tests she's been threatening to run."
Garrus didn't laugh. If anything, his countenance darkened and turned more serious. "About that."
She nodded, and then winced when her head reminded her to stop moving so damned much. Or at all. "They left."
"You told them to."
"I told you all to."
He was silent a long time, and she wondered what his visor was telling him as he scanned the length of her injured body.
"I couldn't have gotten back in time. Cortez said enemies were approaching."
Shepard's stomach twisted in a way that had nothing whatsoever to do with hunger or injury, but hurt nonetheless. "Did they make it?"
"Don't know. Communications were bad."
She swallowed, wishing the taste of blood would wash away. It didn't. "You wouldn't have gone anyway, would you? You could have been standing in that mess hall staring Tali down, twenty feet from the Kodiak and you still wouldn't have gone."
He said nothing. He didn't have to.
"Garrus, I gave you an order."
"What are you going to do about it?" he snapped. "Court-martial me?"
"This isn't funny."
"Good thing I'm not joking."
Furious, and heedless of the way it made her ribs ache, she shifted to face him. "I gave you an order."
He met her ire for ire, the shadowy bulk of him huge. "And I disregarded it. Can we fight about it when we're not trapped in the belly of a ship that may or may not be partially alive? And may or may not be filled with an unknown number of hostiles?"
"As long as you're aware we are going to fight about it."
He reached down, unlatching her boots. She knew he was being careful—every movement was gentle and tentative—but still, the pain as he moved her legs was blinding. Grinding her teeth together, she exhaled loudly through her nose.
It felt good—as good as anything could feel—to be rid of the boots, though.
"Broken," she hissed through her still-clenched teeth.
His head jerked to face her. "Medi-gel?"
"I have some. But the mechanism's busted. Have to—oh, shit—have to do this the old-fashioned way. I need—goddamnit—I need something to bite down on."
Of course, they were in an elevator without a lot of options. After a moment, she felt his hands at her feet, and he removed one of her socks. She watched him roll it into a tight tube, and she'd have laughed if she'd been in any less pain. "Beggars can't be choosers," she muttered, stuffing the fabric between her teeth. It tasted better than the blood, at least.
"This is going to hurt."
"I know," she replied, the words muffled.
He brushed his brow against hers, softly. Tenderly. And for a single moment, she felt fine. She felt like everything was going to be fine.
Then he set the bone in her right leg, and, sock or no sock, potential hostiles or no potential hostiles, she screamed.